From the stories my grandmother used to tell me when I was little, there is one I often think about come Christmas.
It was 1895 and my grandfather’s parents, Dagny and Robert, were newlyweds. They lived in a small Chinese mountain village called Hancheng in the northwest. There were no other Europeans there, and it was their first Christmas in this village. It probably felt at bit empty, but they were very happy when they got invited to celebrate Christmas together with a couple of British missionaries in a town down on the big plain.
For some reason they left a bit later than planned. They had to go by wagon if they didn’t want to ride mules or horses for many hours. At the time, decent people didn’t go out after dark, only robbers and thieves roamed the surroundings. That’s why they usually planned to get to another village before dark, and only travel during daylight. But, when they were finally ready to set off, it was so dark they could hardly see their own hands in front of them. The road was almost impossible to make out and in a very poor condition. The cold was getting worse and when they had travelled for a couple of hours, one of the wagon wheels suddenly got stuck in a deep hole in the road.
My great grandfather Robert, and the chinese coachman tried everything to get the wagon up and running again, but to no avail. It was stuck. Robert and the coachman decided to set out in one direction each to find help. Unfortunately, there were no lights or sounds suggesting that there were people nearby. Suddenly, Robert saw traces of a lone wolf. He froze and turned back to the wagon.
The wolves were a real pain in these mountainous parts of the country. They attacked both humans and animals and meeting people with scars from wolf teeth was not at all unusual. Children early learned that if a wolf tried to drag them away, they had to put their arms around the wolf’s head – that way the bite would not cut so deep into the child and they would also weigh down the wolf’s head so that it couldn’t run so fast. Robert thought about all of this when he came back to his wife but decided to only tell her to keep on praying. He then went looking for help again.
Not long after, three men came towards him. Robert looked at them and wondered what they could possibly want out there in the dark. He decided to walk towards them and politely bow to them. They didn’t look like robbers or thieves – instead they were well dressed and very polite in return. They bowed to Robert and asked if they could be of assistance. He thanked them but felt very confused – they didn’t even haggle over the price for offering their help.
Once by the wagon, the three men looked at the wagon, put their shoulders against it and in a flash the wheel was free from the hole. Nobody could tell how they did it, but the wagon was safely moved onto the field to the side of the ruined road. Robert bowed to them and asked what he owed them.
“Nothing,” they said.
He tried again, but they didn’t want any money. They just turned around and left.
“Where did they go?” Dagny asked Robert.
“I don’t know. They just disappeared. I think they were angels sent by God to help us,” Robert answered.
Robert and Dagny continued their journey and finally arrived at their friend’s place. Tired, but filled with joy and gratitude.
When my grandmother told me this story, I always felt very happy they managed to get to their friend’s place in time for Christmas. I know I was a bit scared when hearing it – mainly because of the wolves, and also because of the three strange men who showed up just like that. Of course I knew they would be all right, and that the moral of the story was to trust God to make everything work out – but I couldn’t help being a bit angry at my great grandfather for putting them all through such a risk. Why not leave the day after? And why did he go away a second time, having seen the wolf traces?
We all put ourselves at risk from time to time. Sometimes we feel like nothing can hurt us – we’re invincible. Sometimes we just don’t care what happens. And probably most of the time, we don’t know what we’re getting into.
I think my great grandparents were very brave people. They didn’t deliberately put themselves at risk, but in some ways they were a bit too trusting – believing they were safeguarded by their faith and if their time had come, that would be all right too. Maybe that’s a way to think about life – do what you have to do and don’t worry so much about what may happen. What is to come will come anyway.
Merry Christmas! ❤